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Nuclear Power in Romania

(Updated December 2013)

  • Romania has two nuclear reactors generating almost 20 percent of its electricity.
  • Romania's first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1996. Its second started up in May 2007.
  • Plans are well advanced for completing two more units, but finance is lacking.
  • Romanian government support for nuclear energy is strong.

Electricity consumption in Romania has been steady over the last decade. In 2006, 62.7 billion kWh gross was produced, with net exports of 4.3 TWh. Nuclear energy now provides almost 20% of the electricity at very low cost, only hydro (one third of supply) is cheaper. In 2006, 40% of electricity came from coal, 19% from gas, 29% from hydro and 9% from nuclear. In 2010, 34% of electricity came from brown coal, 12% from gas, 33% from hydro and 19% from nuclear.

Nuclear industry development

In the late 1970s a five-unit nuclear power plant was planned at Cernavoda, on the Danube River. After considering carefully both Russian VVER-440 and Canadian CANDU technology it was decided to adopt the latter. Cernavoda was based on technology transfer from Canada (AECL), Italy and the USA, with Candu-6 heavy-water reactors.

Construction of the first unit started in 1980, and of units 2-5 in 1982. In 1991 work on the latter four was suspended in order to focus on unit 1, responsibility for which was handed to an AECL-Ansaldo (Canadian-Italian) consortium. Unit 1 was connected to the grid in mid 1996 and entered commercial operation in December 1996.

The state nuclear power corporation Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica (SNN), established in 1998, operates Cernavoda. Its capacity factor has averaged over 86% so far and operating and maintenance costs are USD 1.25 cents/kWh. The unit also provides district heating to Cernavoda township, and 176 TJ was supplied in 2006.

Operating Romanian power reactors

Reactors Model Net MWe First power
Cernavoda 1 Candu 6
655
1996
Cernavoda 2 Candu 6
655
2007
Total (2)   1310 MWe

In 2000 the government decided that completion of Cernavoda 2 was a high priority and supplied some €60 million towards it. It was seen as the least-cost means of providing extra generating capacity for the country. Further finance was raised in 2002-03, with a €382.5 million package announced by the government, including €218 million from Canada. In 2004 an €223.5 million Euratom loan was approved by the European Commission for completion of unit 2, including upgrades.

The 700 MWe (gross) unit has been built by an AECL-Ansaldo-SNN management team, and entered commercial operation in October 2007. Total cost of the project was €777 million. It started up in May 2007 and was grid connected early in August.

In September 2013 the government sold a 10% share of SNN for $85 million in an IPO, in line with commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EU. It also sold 1% to investment fund Fondul Proprietatea.

Further nuclear power capacity

In 2002 efforts got under way to resume work on Cernavoda unit 3, and SNN commissioned a feasibility study from Ansaldo, AECL and KHNP (S.Korea) in 2003. In August 2004 the government advertised for companies interested in completing Cernavoda unit 3 – a 700 MWe Candu 6 unit – through a public-private partnership arrangement. This proved impractical, and a feasibility study in March 2006 analysed further options for both units 3 & 4, including that of SNN completing unit 3 itself. 

However, it was decided to proceed with creating a project joint venture with SNN to complete both 720 MWe units in a €2.5 billion project and then operate them. This would be an independent power producer, with SNN providing operation and maintenance. Twelve potential investors were selected from 15 initial bidders, and in November 2007 binding offers from six companies were accepted: ArcelorMittal (steel maker) of Romania, CEZ of the Czech Republic, Electrabel of Belgium, Enel of Italy, Iberdrola of Spain and RWE Power of Germany. The seven parties including SNN would spread the risk and ease the challenge of project financing.*

* After complex discussions, in March 2008 a draft investment agreement proposed shares of: SNN 20%, Enel 15%, Suez/Electrabel 15%, RWE Power 15%, CEZ 15%, Iberdrola 10% and steelmaker Arcelor-Mittal 10%. Each would provide that proportion of the financing and take the same share of the power generated. The government then decided that SNN should take 51% equity and provide funding of €1.02 billion in loans and loan guarantees. Other funds would be internal and from partial privatising of SNN in 2011.

In November 2008 an investment agreement setting up a new project company, EnergoNuclear SA, was signed between SNN, with 51% of the project, and Enel, CEZ, GDF Suez, RWE Power (each 9.15%), Iberdrola (6.2%) and ArcelorMittal Galati (6.2%). In September 2010 CEZ announced its intention to sell its share, which it did to SNN by January 2011. Then in January 2011 GdF Suez, RWE and Iberdrola together gave notice of withdrawing from the project for commercial reasons. This left Nuclearlectrica with an 84.65% share in the project. Enel holds 9.15% and ArcelorMittal Galati 6.2%.

At the same time three engineering contractors said they would bid for the engineering work on the two units. One is Bechtel, another is a consortium of Canada's SNC Lavalin, Ansaldo Nucleare of Italy and Romanian power engineering company Elcomex IEA, and the third an AtomTechnoProm consortium of four Russian companies. All three were involved in building Cernavoda 1 & 2. Finalising a contractor is expected by mid-2012.

EnergoNuclear was formally established in April 2009, and embarked upon an 18 month pre-project phase. Construction cost is expected to be about €4 billion. Overall debt/equity ratio was earlier proposed to be 70/30. However, by September is was evident that SNN could not raise its share of the funds, and would contribute only 20 to 25%, mostly in kind – heavy water and fuel. The other participants would increase their shares accordingly, perhaps to those agreed in March 2008. The first unit is still expected on line in 2016, the second in 2017.

In February 2010 Energonuclear signed an agreement with AECL to assess the viability of the project and define what is required to complete and commission units 3 & 4. In December 2010 the European Commission approved the project. In August 2011 SNN said that China Nuclear Power Engineering Co. (CNPEC, a subsidiary of CGNPC) was interested in investing in the two new Cernavoda units, and later a South Korean consortium also expressed interest. Bids were open until mid November 2011 to partner with SNN, Enel and ArcelorMittal in Energonuclear, with the new investor taking about 45% of the project. Apparently no bids were received.

In October 2012 the government asked the four major utilities – GdF Suez, Iberdrola, RWE and CEZ – which had withdrawn from EnergoNuclear SA to reconsider involvement in the Cernavoda 3&4 project. Then China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) expressed interest in investing in the project, providing non-nuclear equipment. In November 2013 two nuclear cooperation agreements were signed by Nuclearlectrica with CGN, one a letter of intent relating to construction of units 3&4.

Romanian power reactors planned

reactor model MWe first power
Cernavoda 3 Candu 6 720 2019
Cernavoda 4 Candu 6 720 2020
total (2)   1440 MWe (gross)  

SNN was planning to complete Cernavoda unit 5 by 2020, but since this was significantly less progressed than the others, government thinking is to build further nuclear capacity at other sites. Early plans foresaw ten Candu and three VVER-1000 units for Romania, at several sites.

A March 2008 statement by the head of SNN said that up to four more units by 2020 at a new site were proposed, and early in 2009 site selection was still under way. In May it was announced that Tirnaveni municipality in Tirgu Mures district of Transylvania, and on the Muresul River in central Romania was favoured, with a site in the nearby Sibiu district on the Olt River as second choice. Three sites on the Somes River in Transylvania have also been mentioned, for 2400 MWe of capacity to be built after 2020. Areva has been approached to contribute to planning, with a view to a second plant being commissioned by 2030

Fuel cycle

The state-owned Compania Nationala a Uraniului (CNU) mines a small amount of uranium each year from 3100 tU known resources at Crucea-Botusana with government subsidy, but this is almost depleted. It is planning to develop a new deposit at Grinties Commune in the east of the country.

Cernavoda 1 has been using 105 tonnes of natural uranium oxide fuel per year, which is fabricated by the SNN subsidiary Fabrica de Combustibil Nuclear (FCN) Pitesti fuel plant in he south of the country. This was qualified by AECL in 1994 and remains the only such plant producing Candu fuel outside Canada.

Prior to 1990 some 31,000 fuel bundles were made, but these were assessed as unusable so were dismantled and refabricated. This material comprised half of the fuel used to early 2007.

At the end of 2003 it started making slightly heavier fuel bundles, and in preparation for unit 2 commissioning, its capacity was doubled to 46 fuel bundles per day.

Heavy water is produced by the Romanian Nuclear Activities Authority (RAAN) in the southwest of the country, near Drobeta-Turnu Severin.

Radioactive Waste Management

Used fuel is stored at the reactors for up to ten years. It is then transferred to a dry storage facility for spent based on the Macstor system designed by AECL. The first module was commissioned in 2003.

Preliminary investigations are under way regarding a deep geological repository.

Near Cernavoda, a low- and intermediate-level waste repository is envisaged from 2005.

A radioactive waste treatment facility operates at Pitesti.

Research & Development

A 14 MWt Triga research reactor is operating at Pitesti, and a 2 MW Russian unit is being decommissioned at Bucharest-Magurele.

A consortium was set up in December 2013 for the construction of a demonstration lead-cooled fast reactor in Romania. The Advanced Lead Fast Reactor European Demonstrator (ALFRED) is being developed under an EU initiative. A memorandum of cooperation has been signed between Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment (ENEA) with Ansaldo Nucleare, and Romania's Nuclear Research Institute (Institutul de Cercetari Nucleare, ICN), to implement construction of ALFRED. The group is to be known as the Fostering Alfred Construction (Falcon) consortium, which will be expanded through the participation of further European organizations. The total cost of the project is put at some €1.0 billion. ALFRED will be built at ICN's facility in Mioveni, near Pitesti in southern Romania. Construction could begin in 2017 and the unit could start operating in 2025. It will supply 120 MWe to the electrical grid.

The reactor is being developed through the European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative (ESNII), which brings together industry and research partners in the development of Generation IV Fast Neutron Reactor technology, as part of the EU's Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan). ESNII was set up under the umbrella of the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP), formed in 2007 and bringing together more than 90 stakeholders involved in nuclear fission.

Alfred is seen as a prelude to an industrial demonstration unit of about 600 MWe. The lead-cooled reactor will employ mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel with about 17% plutonium, and will operate at temperatures of around 550°C. It features passive safety systems.

Regulation and safety

The Ministry for Education and Research includes the National Agency for Atomic Energy which has a technical and research role.

SNN comes under the Ministry of Economy and Commerce. The Romanian Nuclear Activities Authority (RAAN) operates the Triga research reactor and undertakes R&D on safety, nuclear fuel, radiation protection, reactor systems, and radioactive waste management. It also operates the heavy water plant.

The National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control (CNCAN) is the regulator which was set up under the Nuclear Act 1996 to ensure safety and to licence nuclear sites and operations. It is also responsible for safeguards and other international liaison, ensuring conformity with IAEA standards, as well as radiation protection.

Non-proliferation

Romania is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1970 as a non-nuclear weapons state. It is member of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. The Additional Protocol in relation to its safeguards agreements with the IAEA came into force in 2000.

References:
IAEA 2003, Country Nuclear Power Profiles.
Energy in E. Europe 3/9/04.